HR Strange But True!
July 12, 2007

A boss contacts an employee via the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace and wants to be her "friend," which is the social networking sites' parlance for joining a circle of people who can keep tabs on you by reading your Web page, looking at your photos, and reading your blog. What would be a quicker form of career suicide: accepting the request and letting the boss see a beach party photo of her in a fur bikini guzzling beer, or rejecting the request and slighting her boss?

The Wall Street Journal reports that a growing number of workers are facing that sort of dilemma on social networking sites Facebook and MySpace because (1) a lot more people of all ages are joining the sites and (2) the definition of "friend" on the sites is quite broad.

On the sites, a friend can range from someone who is a perfect stranger but shares an interest (or no interest at all) to people you have known since childhood.

"All these social relationships--apples and oranges--are getting crammed into one category of friends," Tom Boellstorff, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, tells the newspaper (and no, he's not everyone's friend Tom on MySpace).

Before the advent of social networking sites, employees could socialize in places where they had little fear of running into the boss. The boss was unlikely to be hanging out at the clubs or parties they attended on the weekends. With the emergence of Facebook and MySpace, however, a boss can get a glimpse into employees' social lives with a few taps of a mouse.

The "friend request" from boss to employee creates an awkward situation because few bosses and employees are friends, never mind BFF (best friends forever), and a lot of people post information and photos on Facebook and MySpace that they probably don't want the boss to see.

When confronted with a friend request from their bosses, employees have a few options:

  • Accept the friend request, giving the boss a glimpse into their private lives, including all those party photos;
  • Deny it and face the consequences of possibly hurting their career prospects; or
  • Scrub their Web page to make it safe for the boss's eyes and then accept the friend request.

The newspaper notes that the boss is sometimes the one with embarrassing photos or information on their MySpace or Facebook pages.

Paul Dyer, who is 24 years old, tells the newspaper that when he accepted a friend request from a boss, he saw one photo of the boss drinking two drinks at once and another one of the boss wearing a denim suit and flashing a peace sign like hip-hop artists do.

"I hurt for him," Dyer tells the newspaper.

Are you on MySpace or Facebook? Have you faced that awkward situation of having to accept or reject a friend request from a boss or colleague? If not, what would you do if faced with such a scenario? Let us know about your work-related experiences with the sites in the HR Forum, where we have started a discussion on this topic. If we get enough good stories, we'll include them in a future HR Strange but True! column.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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